Douglas L. Dwoyer
Class of 1964, BS; Class of 1967, MS; Class of 1975, Ph.D.
As a toddler, Doug Dwoyer loved airplanes. By high school, he managed to find his way on to the civil air patrol team that allowed him to fly practice search and rescue missions several times a month. He never deviated from his goals and today has some 1700 researchers, technicians, and support personnel reporting to him as NASA Langley’s Associate Director for Research and Technology Competencies. And his legacy will include the development of the National Institute of Aeronautics (NIA), charged with developing advanced aerospace and atmospheric research.
His long-term association with Virginia Tech began when the New Jersey native selected its aerospace engineering program in 1960. A member of the Corps of Cadets, he co-oped with Aberdeen Proving Ground, performing aerodynamic work in its Ballistics Research Lab. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1964, he remained for his master’s degree. But with the Vietnam War, he was soon commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and sent to Wright Paterson Air Force Base. After four years in its hypersonic research facilities where he was also able to use his work as a basis for his dissertation, he returned to Tech to get his Ph.D. in 1975.
The aerospace industry was not thriving in the mid-70s, and he had to wait two years for the employment opportunity he wanted most – to work with NASA. A branch manager named Jerry South and Dr. Dwoyer’s veteran’s preference opened the door for him despite a hiring freeze at the government agency. He started in the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) area where South, also a Virginia Tech AE graduate, was a team leader. “Jerry mentored me and four years later I became a branch head,” Dr. Dwoyer recalls.
He has now spent 26 years at the NASA Langley location where the exciting challenges have never stopped and he has a hand in putting together international teams to attack the tough problems. “We work with some of the best scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in the world,” he says.
One of the most challenging programs for Dr. Dwoyer was managing the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) CFD Technology Maturation Program. “This project allowed us to make huge strides at predicting aerodynamics, particularly in all of the basic hypersonic physical modeling for high speed planes. He eventually headed the Hypersonic Technology Office of NASA Langley from 1987 until 1989. From there he became Chief of the Fluid Mechanics Division until 1994. For the next four years, he served as the Director of the Research and Technology Group.
Since 1998, Dr. Dwoyer has held his current position where he is responsible for overseeing all of NASA’s Langley’s systems analysis, technology development, scientific research, and systems engineering. Two years into this position, Dr. Dwoyer hosted a strategic planning meeting for a select group to look at megatrends in aerospace and development. “It was clear to us that the way research is done was radically changing. With the pace of technological change, we needed to be in an environment where we could react more quickly. With the government’s discretionary budget pressures and bureaucratic processes, it is hard to be nimble. We decided a new entity outside of NASA that could do business with anyone and be more flexible commercially was needed,” Dr. Dwoyer recalls.
The concept went through a few iterations as the legal eyes looked at the entity and by 2001, NASA issued a competitive process to locate a consortium of universities that would comprise the bulk of the NIA. The successful proposal came from a consortium led by Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia. “It’s a dream team,” Dr. Dwoyer says, “and I believe they will become a major center of innovation in the aerospace engineering field.”
Dr. Dwoyer’s rich career has yet to completely satisfy him. He is now looking at working towards a more sustainable economy. “We can’t continue to consume our resources as we have. We need sustainable aviation by using different energy sources that are renewable. We need to reduce the impact of aviation upon the environment which is more significant than most people think,” says NASA’s head of scientific research. “The water vapor released in the stratosphere has more effect than carbon dioxide emissions. It is clear from the atmospheric science research at Langley that aircraft in the stratosphere have dramatically impacted the overall cloudiness. If we move to hydrogen fuel which produces more water vapor, the potential is the problem will become bigger.”
While Dr. Dwoyer directs his energies towards sustainable aviation, he sees the next generation as a key component to solve the problem. Since the late 1970s, he has served higher education as a professor at George Washington University and as an advisor. He is on Virginia Tech’s AOE Advisory Board and is now also a member of its counterpart at the University of Maryland. He also points to NIA’s graduate research program as growing faster than anyone imagined.
Among his honors, Dr. Dwoyer received NASA’s Engineering Achievement Award, Outstanding Leadership Medal, and the Meritorious Rank Award (twice). He is a Fellow of the American Institute or Aeronautics and Astronautics and a member of Virginia Tech’s Committee of 100. He holds a Commendation Medal from the USAF.
He and his wife Nancy have two children.
Class of: 1964, 1967, 1975
Year Inducted into Academy: 2004